Gangster Squad

gangster squadReleased: 2013
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn

Average gangster movie with ideas above its station


One of my favourite websites is, the website of the Film Distributors’ Association. In a few short minutes you can see what films are released each week for months in advance. Sometimes even years in advance – for example How To Train Your Dragon 3 (3D) is scheduled for release on Friday 22 July 2016. This is important information to have at hand. We can also tell by looking at the release schedule if distributors think they should avoid challenging a big release. Categorically this week the answer is yes. Only one major film is up against Les Miserables in the box office this week and that is Ruben Fleischer’s violent but stylish Gangster Squad.

Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen is terrorising Los Angeles. Crime is rife with politicians, police and judges all under his control. Even other mobsters are afraid of his violent tactics. New police chief Bill Parker wants to clean up the city but knows he will have to go to war to achieve his aims. He asks honest cop John O’Mara to put together a team who will fight a guerrilla campaign against Cohen to drive him out of the city. O’Mara’s team includes young army veteran Jerry Wooters who is having an affair with one of Cohen’s employees Grace Faraday.

The basic premise of Gangster Squad is excellent and while it’s lazy reviewing practice to say that any new release is “film A meets movie B” it’s clear from the beginning that Fleischer wants us to think that his offering is The Untouchables meets LA Confidential. It has clear and obviously deliberate elements of both films. From The Untouchables there is the honest cop bringing together his disparate team to fend off the famous mobster – there was almost a checklist of characters. I was just waiting for the weedy intelligent guy with glasses when up popped Giovanni Ribisi as a weedy intelligent guy with glasses. The Los Angeles of Gangster Squad has the same stylised look and same mobster as LA Confidential but has none of the style or class as Curtis Hanson’s 1997 barnstormer.

The script by Will Beall wasn’t just cliché ridden it was laughable, it was as if someone had put the one page from of every mob movie ever produced together in a random fashion and decided that would work. Actors didn’t seem to know if they should be ultra po-faced (Josh Brolin), playing it for laughs (Antony Mackie, Robert Patrick and Michael Pena) or chewing the scenery with possibly the worst Jewish mobster accent ever committed to film (Sean Penn). Of the main cast only Ryan Gosling does well as Wooters but he was working against a bad script and bad direction.

Gangster Squad isn’t entirely a bad film. It has a good supporting cast including the always reliable Robert Patrick and Michael Pena in an entertaining double act. (Am I the only person miffed that everyone seems to have forgotten how good Pena was in End of Watch?). Once I left myself get over the ridiculous script and daft acting I did enjoy the film despite some pretty violent scenes.

There’s not a chance that Gangster Squad is going to challenge Les Miserables in the box office charts this week but more disappointingly for the producers and director it’s not ever going to considered a great film to mentioned alongside those it aspires to be like such as The Untouchables or LA Confidential. In fact it will be forgotten before the end of the year.

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  1. Just saw it and even though I can understand the criticism it has been receiving I absolutely loved it, this is an action film set in a gangster era and it worked for me.

    • I can see this as a film that will split opinions. Guy in the same row as me left and told me how much he enjoyed it.

  2. Yes, the only thing that made it barely tolerable for me was Ryan Gosling who I think pretty much has the charm to shine through the worst of movies. I thought it was so cliched and cartoonish that it became a satire when the intent was to make a gritty, sometimes witty, crime drama.

    • You’ve hit on a good point – I think they’ve tried to make it sometimes witty but gone overboard into cartoonish. The scene with the car not starting was laughable, and not in a good way.

  3. Hey we share the same rating and I think I was being generous. I disagree on Gosling though (annoying as ever in his attempt to look suave) but I do love the supporting cast. I’d rather see Mackie in the role of Gosling, maybe, just maybe I like it more.

    • I definitely think the supporting cast were better than the main cast – I quite like Gosling, but not one of his fanboys (or girls)

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